Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever

titleDebuted in 2002

24 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Zim poses as Santa in order to get money and then, as he learns more about Santa, to lure humans to their doom. But the Santa suit he creates begins to believe he’s actually Santa and fills Zim with warm emotions and jolly feelings toward children. Dib and Gaz show up in time to stop him by jettisoning the mutated spirit of Santa into space.

Fun Fact: This was the last episode to be completed before the series was cancelled, but it was actually the first Season 2 episode to air in the US.

My thoughts: Invader Zim was a short-lived series on Nickelodeon created by comic book writer Jhonen Vasquez (best known for his Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comic series). The basic plot (an alien sent to Earth to infiltrate and plot world domination) is simple, but offers a lot to work with and the show had a fair-sized cult following. It’s a little confusing if you’ve never seen any of the show before, but still enjoyable even without the full knowledge of the characters. The show is bookended by a mechanical snowman narrator, telling a group of children the story we’re watching as something that happened in the long ago past. It’s definitely on the darker side, in plot elements and character design, but there are plenty of funny moments and quite a lot of unpredictability, which is always welcome in the world of overdone holiday plots. Definitely worth watching, especially if you enjoy things a little on the weird side.

snowman-narrator

The robot snowman should do something about that unibrow.

jolly-jail

The ‘Jolly Jail’ turns incarceration into minty holiday fun!

soft-hearted-santa

Santa’s going all emotional on us.

easter-platypus

Next plan: The Easter Platypus!

Individual Superlative: Least Reassuring Santa Outcome – In the story’s ending narration, the talking snowman tells the children that Santa isn’t dead (which is normally good news) but that he’s out in space, gathering power to come back and destroy us all. You better watch out!

Want to Watch it? Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever is available on DVD.

Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy

titleDebuted in 1995

64 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Bumpy wants to get Santa’s bag to take all the presents for himself so he cons Squishington into helping him with the promise of his dream gift – a pair of feet. They meet others on the way and battle Santa’s snowman army, but Bumpy gets the bag and rushes back home, unknowingly dropping presents on the way. He gets home just in time to close the Christmas pageant with a song and then, having learned something about the joy of giving, he gives the last remaining gift to Squishington, who finally lives his dream to tap dance.

Fun Fact: The phrase ‘things that go bump in the night’ comes from a traditional Scottish prayer from the 19th century.

My thoughts: I mentioned to my awesome future son-in-law that I was dreading watching this one and he bravely offered to keep me company, stating that he (much like my son) has a strange enjoyment for really bad shows. Well, most bad shows. Once again, it seems that all the worst specials are compelled to go long and Bumpy’s 64 minutes feel like a couple of hours stranded in rush hour traffic with an overheating engine and a full volume radio you can’t adjust. Between the gross-out scenes, the ethnic stereotypes (the British hummingbird sounds like a Monty Python character and might as well have just said, “Blimey!” and “Crumpets!” over and over) and bizarre moments such as a ‘grassy knoll’ joke, I don’t think this special has any real concept of who its target audience is. The talented Jim Cummings gives Bumpy a voice that sounds like the love child of Bobcat Goldthwait and Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil and it was grating on my nerves after 5 minutes. (It was hardcore chomping on them after another hour.) A subplot involving Molly Coddle (the comfort doll) having to show some confidence so she could direct the pageant was tiresome and pointless, seeming to serve as just a vehicle to get more re-worded songs into the thing and stretch it out longer. Can’t recommend this one for anyone.

pageant-performers

All the toys and the insect (who sings the song in this special’s Hanukkah nod) look miffed. They must have realized what special they’re in.

snow-soldiers

Frosty goes to Boot Camp?

sniffing-armpits

Nothing says holidays like oozy blobs smelling their own armpits.

worm

Is this worm channeling Steve Buscemi or John Waters?

Individual Superlative: Most Non-Original Original Songs – Every song in this is a traditional Christmas song with new words that often just summarize the plot and they’re all really repetitive. And they mostly play over re-played footage (sometimes multiple times – I seriously lost count of how many times they showed the same map) from this special and other episodes of the show.

Want to Watch it? Bump in the Night: Twas the Night Before Bumpy is available on VHS, DVD and YouTube.

Phineas and Ferb Christmas Vacation

titleDebuted in 2009

34 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Phineas and Ferb coordinate a massive ‘Thank you’ event for Santa Claus, decorating the entire city and building a special place for Santa to rest after his journey. But when Doofenshmirtz uses his recently received ‘Naughty-inator’ to turn the whole town naughty, all of Danville’s letters come back to them. Phineas and Ferb and all their friends manage to save the day, resulting in everyone getting their Christmas wish.

Fun Fact: This was the first episode of Phineas and Ferb not to be set in the summertime and the first to be aired on ABC Family.

My thoughts: Phineas and Ferb is one of those great shows that has massive cross-generational appeal and can be enjoyed by young kids, teenagers and even middle-age ladies like yours truly. The main contributing factor in this is the writing which is clever and funny without relying on cheap laughs or mean-spirited humor. While it helps to know the characters (and you certainly get more of the jokes), you can watch this special with no prior knowledge of the show and still thoroughly enjoy it. At the end of the special, we discover that Santa was the mastermind behind everything, including Doofenshmirtz’s ‘Naughty-inator’ and that just about everyone has gotten their Christmas wish as a result. There’s a really sweet moment when Buford does one nice thing (as part of his plan to be a brat all year and then redeem himself at the last moment) and we learn that his wish was just to be thought of as nice by his friends. In any other show, that may have played as mawkish, but it really works here, because we care about these characters and their relationships to each other. There are great songs in this episode that have become part of our Christmas playlists and hopefully will become holiday standards, just like ‘Silver and Gold’ and ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ once did. If you’ve never seen it, put this one on your must-watch list.

santa-sighting

This ‘Santa sighting’ picture proves that Santa is real. And sorry Bigfoot, you’re still not.

rudolph-nod

Everyone needs a Bumble to help with the star.  Even these guys.

partridge-on-a-perry

“And a partridge on a Perry…”

figgy-pudding

Why does he have the industrial size?

Individual Superlative: Best Foreshadowing – In ‘Gaming the System,’ an episode that aired in April of 2009, Major Monogram tells Perry that after monitoring Doofenshmirtz’s internet activity, he knows that he’s giving Perry a vase for Christmas. In this episode, he actually does and the look on Perry’s face is awesome.

Want to Watch it? Phineas & Ferb Christmas Vacation is available on DVD, iTunes, Amazon and you can usually find it on during the holiday season.

Frosty’s Winter Wonderland

Title

Debuted in 1976

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Frosty the Snowman comes back to life when the winter snow returns, but the children notice that he’s lonely, so they build him a snow wife and name her Crystal. Jack Frost is jealous of the way the children love Frosty and steals Frosty’s magic hat, but Crystal brings him back with a snow corsage and asks Jack Frost to be their Best Man. His attitude changes and he keeps winter going extra long so they can have lots of time to enjoy it.

Fun Fact: Other than Frosty himself, the only returning character from the original special is the traffic policeman.

My thoughts: I remember when this special originally aired and there was a lot of excitement about it. We had all been watching Frosty the Snowman every year since we were little and the idea of a new Frosty story was pretty awesome, especially since it had the look and feel of the original. The story is narrated by an animated Andy Griffith and, as a North Carolinian, there is a special place in my heart for Andy. After the original made a special point of saying that Frosty needed his magic hat to come to life, some may think it’s a bit of cheat for this special to bring snow people to life without it. But they choose to go with things that are individually special to the snow people involved (a bridal bouquet for Crystal and the bible for the snow parson who marries them) and that’s a sweet touch. It’s a simple special with a really nice message about inclusion and the importance of friends and loved ones.

Andy Dance

Andy looks like he’s kidnapping that boy.

Angsty Frosty smoking

Angsty Frosty wants to smoke in peace.

Crystal

Crystal is sweet and lovable with a literal mop of hair.

Snow Parson

Parson Brown is teaching the snow parson how to be sanctimonious.

Individual Superlative: Separated at Birth – In 1974, the broadcast rights to the Rankin-Bass catalog changed hands. Everything made before that date is now owned by CBS and everything after is owned by ABC, which is why (in case you’ve ever wondered) ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas shows this special but not the original.

Want to Watch it? Frosty’s Winter Wonderland is available on DVD and YouTube, plus it still shows up on TV every year.

Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

Title

Debuted in 2012

11 minutes

Plot in 1 Sentence: Comedy sketches include Santa dreaming about missing Christmas, Justin Bieber singing a Christmas song and G.I. Joe characters confused about what to get Snake Eyes.

Fun Fact: The show’s creators met with G.I. Joe comic book writer Larry Hama and recorded a short video clip with him that appears in the show.

My thoughts: Robot Chicken is very hit and miss with me. There are some funny ideas and I could pull together bits and pieces from all of their Christmas specials over the years to make one episode that I really enjoyed. There are almost always one or two references that I just don’t understand simply because I am not deeply immersed in pop culture, especially when it comes to video games and contemporary TV series. I usually know enough to get what the joke is going for, but not enough to find it funny. And while I am a fan of some shock humor, it wears thin on me if I feel like they’re just trying to see how far over the line they can go. I did think the idea of Santa trying to track down Jason Bourne just so he could give him a present was pretty funny but overall, I thought this one didn’t have much going for it.

Santa

This is not your mom’s Santa.

Bieber

And this is not your daughter’s Bieber.

Betrayed

It’s never easy to break up with your Christmas tree.

The Grinch

Okay, having the Nerd be even angrier at the Grinch when he finds out it’s the Jim Carrey Grinch was pretty funny.

Individual Superlative: Finish Un-Strong – To let you know exactly the level of comedy you can expect here, the show ends on a rape joke. Oh…and it’s a necrophiliac rape joke.

Want to Watch it? Robot Chicken ATM Christmas Special is available on Amazon Video.

Are You Being Served?: Christmas Crackers

Title

Debuted in 1975

27 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: The staff of Grace Brothers arrives at the store early to discuss ideas for boosting sales but Mr. Rumbold shows up with the news that Mr. Grace has rented fun costumes for all of them to wear. Their Christmas lunch is disappointing, with a tiny turkey, combustible Christmas pudding and not much else. But the decorations are lovely and everyone gets into the holiday spirit to close with a festive song.

Fun Fact: This episode marked the first appearance of Doremy Vernon as the Canteen Manager (who stayed for most of the series) and the last appearance of Mr. Mash.

My thoughts: Like many comedies of this era, Are You Being Served? is silly, formulaic and predictable. Mr. Lucas is going to insult Mrs. Slocombe, there’s going to be a point-of-display model that goes wrong and Mrs. Slocombe will make a double entendre statement about her cat. But it still manages to be good fun most of the time, with a few genuine laughs along the way. This is not my favorite of their Christmas episodes, but it still has its high points, including the bit at the end when they tell Young Mr. Grace that he’s done very well (which is something he usually says to them). You’re expecting the worst when the department decorations are revealed, so it’s a surprise when they turn out to be lovely and it makes for an unexpectedly sweet and cheerful ending.

Charming smile

Mr. Grainger displays the warm and friendly smile he will give to children.

Point of display model

Mrs. Slocombe is not amused by the point-of-display model…and she is unanimous in this!

Funny faces

Captain Peacock’s googly eyes are awesome.

Staff in costume

Of course, Mr. Humphries has the most outrageous costume.

Individual Superlative: Christmas Envy – From the ‘Christmas pud’ to pulling the giant crackers, this special makes you want to spend at least one Christmas in the U.K.

Want to Watch it? Are You Being Served?: Christmas Crackers is available on DVD and you can watch it on YouTube.

Grim & Evil: Christmas Con Carne

TitleDebuted in 2002

7 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Santa and the elves are preparing for Christmas when Hector Con Carne shows up and Major Dr. Ghastly transplants Hector’s brain onto Santa’s head. Now in control of Santa, Hector forces the elves to implant mind control devices in all the toys in an attempt to take over the world. But Rupert the Green-nosed Reindeer arrives and helps Santa take back control of himself and together, they defeat Hector Con Carne and his gang.

Fun Fact: Evil Con Carne was the final cartoon series in Cartoon Network’s well-loved Cartoon Cartoons block, which also featured such favorites as Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo and The Powerpuff Girls.

My thoughts: There are lots of series out there where the Christmas episode is the only one I’ve ever seen. Sometimes you can get full enjoyment out of the episode without knowing anything about the show, but sometimes you just wind up feeling a little lost. This one was somewhere in between the two. As long as you don’t feel the need for an explanation as to why there’s a disembodied brain in a jar that wants to take over the world, you should be able to follow the rest of the show. But even though I basically understood what was going on, I wasn’t really a big fan. It seemed overly weird with only one moment that stood out – when Rupert saved Santa by having him think of the children, which provided him the strength to take control of his mind on his own.

Does anyone else see a creepy face in the center of this picture?

Does anyone else see a creepy face in the center of this picture?

"You better watch out" takes on a whole new meaning when this Santa comes to town.

“You better watch out” takes on a whole new meaning when this Santa comes to town.

Santa's impressed at Rupert's manly pecs.

Santa’s impressed at Rupert’s manly pecs.

I should have a tag for 'and the bad guys get coal at the end.'

I should have a tag for ‘and the bad guys get coal at the end.’

Individual Superlative: Most Confusing Series – Okay, so Grim & Evil was a series that showed segments of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy and Evil Con Carne. Then each of those shows got their own series so there was no more Grim & Evil. Then Evil Con Carne got cancelled. Then they brought it back. Then it got cancelled again, but some of the characters from this show appeared on The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. Then Grim & Evil was brought back, but without the Evil Con Carne episodes. So it was only grim?  I’m lost.

Want to Watch it? Grim & Evil: Christmas Con Carne is available on DVD and is still sometimes shown on reruns during the Cartoon Planet block on Cartoon Network.